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SANDY KOUFAX
Outing gets another inning
BY MICHAEL BRONSKI

On one level, it’s hard to see what all the fuss is about. So the New York Post ran a blind item in its " Page Six " gossip column implying that baseball legend Sandy Koufax was gay. The December 19 squib noted that a " Hall of Fame baseball hero " had " cooperated with a best-selling biography only because the author promised to keep it secret that he is gay. The author kept her word, but big mouths at the publishing house can’t keep from flapping. " Since Jane Leavy’s Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy (HarperCollins), published in September, had graced bestseller lists over Christmas, it seemed pretty clear that the gossip was about Koufax.

Amazingly, no one much noticed it until Koufax himself expressed outrage nearly two months after the fact when he cited the Post item as the sole reason why he would refuse to attend spring training in Dodgertown this year, or even to attend games at Dodger Stadium. The reason? Both the Dodgers and the Post are owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Speaking through Derrick Hall, a close friend and Dodgers senior vice-president, Koufax claimed he would " feel foolish to be associated with or promote one entity [owned by Murdoch] if it helps another. " (In this age of media conglomeration, taking this tack gets sticky, since Murdoch also owns HarperCollins, which published Koufax’s biography.)

Only after Koufax expressed his outrage — and denied rookies his training expertise — did his " outing " became a story. And almost immediately the press rallied to his defense. The New York Daily News, the Post’s rival, even " outed " Koufax as a heterosexual ( " Koufax gay? Nothing wrong with that — but no way! " ) by pointing to his marriages and his current female companion. (Ironically, such stories emphasized that Koufax kept homes in Greenwich Village and Buck’s County — both noted gay enclaves.) And Leavy, too, immediately weighed in. The Post piece " was blatantly unfair, scandalous, and contemptible, " she said. " It was thoroughly without basis insofar as it had to do with Sandy or any relationship I had with him professionally. " The media outrage was so great that in its February 21 issue, the Post — in a surprising act of contrition — retracted the gossip and apologized to Koufax, stating, " A two-sentence blind item we ran here on Dec. 19 about a ‘Hall of Fame baseball hero’ has sparked a series of unfortunate consequences for which we are very sorry.... The author has denied making any deal with Koufax and called our item ‘erroneous.’ We apologize to both Koufax and Leavy for getting it wrong. "

In the history of " outing " since the early ’90s, this is probably the first time the media have flocked to the defense of an outee. In the past, movie stars like Jodie Foster simply ignored the charge, while others, such as conservative Republican congressman Jim Kolbe of Arizona, were forced to acknowledged it was true. Rosie O’Donnell turned her newly public sexual orientation into a political campaign to lobby for gay adoption and families. It’s true that Tom Cruise went so far as to bring a multi-million-dollar libel suit against a gay-male porn star who claimed to have had sex with the Hollywood icon, but most of the media simply viewed Cruise’s actions as silly overkill.

So what is it about Koufax that attracts such sympathy? Those who defend his boycott of News Corp note that he is an intensely private and personally honorable man. Derrick Hall even went so far as to state, " Sandy Koufax is as principled a human being as I have ever met in my life. " And all his defenders back this up with the story of how Koufax, who is Jewish, refused to pitch a game in the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur.

What is curious here is that while most " outings " are done by gay people, or at least followed by a gay audience — think of the gay media coverage of Chastity Bono, Ellen DeGeneres, and George Michaels — Koufax has hardly garnered any gay attention at all. In fact, in a recent poll on the topic on PlanetOut.com, readers were asked their opinion of Koufax’s actions — Was he being homophobic? Was it nobody’s business? — and a whopping 47 percent answered, " Who is Sandy Koufax? "

Maybe Koufax is secretly gay — plenty of gay men have been married, many twice — or bisexual, or who knows what. But at its heart, this isn’t a gay story, or even a sex story — it is a baseball story. Baseball fans are simply unwilling or unable to contemplate the possibility that a baseball legend might be gay. The one lesson we can all learn from the Koufax affair is that when even the New York Daily News can recycle the old Seinfeld line — " not that there’s anything wrong with that " — about gayness, the reality is that lots of people still think there is. Otherwise, privacy and principles aside, it wouldn’t even be an issue.

Issue Date: February 27 - March 6, 2003
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